I must have been 11 or 12-years-old when my father was summoned to the hill by the uncles. Old Bob had gone into the woods and never come out. They put together a search party to find the body. Maybe it was just their pessimistic yankee natures or maybe I was shielded from the facts of the situation, but no one seemed to hold out much hope that Bob wasn’t dead. No one seemed to think Bob was injured or that Bob had gotten lost. Bob went into the woods and died and it was their job to go into the woods and find him.
I hoped my father wouldn’t be the one to find him. I wonder if he felt the same way. Putting myself in that situation, I can see my competitive nature running ahead of my chicken heart, wanting to be the first to ring the bell on Bob’s remains. My inner beasts do battle occasionally. I didn’t want that for my father, though. I hoped he would take a lot of cigarette breaks and also lose his glasses.
A couple days into the search someone brought their special dogs. These dogs were trained to sniff out dead things. “Once you’ve smelled something dead, you never forget the smell” my Dad said. And that’s how they found Bob, who did indeed turn up dead.
I’ve imagined ever since that I can smell dead things. I have no actual experience to support this claim. There is just this scent that, over the years, I’ve associated with death. Eau de Dead. Kind of sweet with a soupçon of decay thrown in. Whenever this smell infiltrates my senses I think of my father and the uncles out searching the woods for Bob with those special dogs. Which brings me to my morning walk. Earlier today I walked past a house in my neighborhood and a sickly sweet familiar scent reached out to greet me. Something is dead there, I thought to myself, and kept walking.
Sometimes my chicken heart asks no questions.